Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, is a deft blend of funk, electronica and other genres, and is credited with turning rapper Kendrick Lamar onto jazz icons Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.
As Treefort Music Fest has grown, so has its music lineup. Now in its fifth year, more than 450 acts are scheduled to perform during the five-day fest, including some big-name headliners like retro-soul screamer Charles Bradley, folk-metal-electronica songstress Chelsea Wolfe, quirky electro-pop duo Cocorosie and psyched-out garage-rock band Thee Oh Sees. Also on this year's list of impressive acts is local dream-pop champ Trevor Powers in what will reportedly be one of his final performances as Youth Lagoon.
Of course, that still leaves several hundred bands and musicians to check out, so Boise Weekly went through the lineup and made a list of what promise to be some of the best shows from local and touring artists.
Keep in mind, this list is by no means exhaustive. That would only spoil some of the fun.
Acid Mothers Temple (Neurolux, March 23, 11:40 p.m.)
Acid Mothers Temple seems to have grown fond of Boise. The internationally respected Japanese psychedelic collective—which fuses metal, folk, jazz and experimental music—played The Crux in 2014 and the Crazy Horse in 2015. The band's commitment to, as Pitchfork's Mark Richardson put it, "transformative ecstasy through profound disorientation" makes it an especially good fit for TFM 2016.
Vaadat Charigim (Neurolux, March 24, 9 p.m.)
The TFM 2016 lineup features a number of impressive international acts, including Vaadat Charigim, a shoegaze trio from Tel Aviv, Israel, whose melancholy tunes and hazy, droning guitars have earned comparisons to Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.
Vaadat Charigim's songs aren't just sound and fury: The all-Hebrew lyrics are a reflection of uncertainty and disillusionment felt by those living in Israel today. You don't need an interpreter to enjoy the music, though. As Pitchfork's Ian Cohen observed, "[T]here really is no language barrier if you've got an ear for ... the dark grey moods this music is typically suggesting."
Willis Earl Beal (Boise Contemporary Theater, March 25, 5:45 p.m.)
Imagine Al Green or Marvin Gaye moving to the Pacific Northwest and obsessing over the instrumentals in David Bowie's Berlin trilogy. That's what Willis Earl Beal sounds like on his 2015 album, Noctunes (Tender Loving Empire), which Stereogum praised for its "dark majesty."
In 2013, the Portland, Ore.-based musician told The Guardian he dislikes performing live "as it makes him feel exposed" but, hopefully, the intimacy of Boise Contemporary Theater will help. It's definitely a bonus for the festival-goers lucky enough to hear Beal's somber melodies; icy synthesizer drones; and rich, delicate vocals
Thundercat (El Korah Shrine, March 25, 11:15 p.m.)
Kendrick Lamar garnered widespread acclaim last year for his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope), which drew heavily from '70s funk and jazz. The rapper shifted away from the languid beats of his breakthrough good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope, 2012) thanks largely to the influence of Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, who played bass on Butterfly and turned Lamar on to the work of jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.
Lamar isn't the only high-profile artist to call upon Thundercat's talents. The Los Angeles-based musician has worked with a variety of acts, including Stanley Clarke, Suicidal Tendencies, Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg and Flying Lotus. As befits someone with such a broad-ranging C.V., Thundercat's solo work deftly blends funk, electronica and other genres.
Skating Polly (Watercooler, March 26, 7:50 p.m.)
Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse of Skating Polly may be young—they started playing together at ages 9 and 14, respectively—but they've already accomplished more than many older musicians. The tunefully abrasive, riot grrl-influenced duo has played with several noteworthy artists, including Mike Watt, Babes in Toyland and The Flaming Lips. They've also had albums produced by Exene Cervenka from X and K Records founder Calvin Johnson.
Oddisee (Knitting Factory, March 26, 11:10 p.m.)
Treefort-goers excited to see Aesop Rock perform on Saturday should try catching the act just before him, too. Oddisee may not have the loquacity of Aesop, whom engineer-journalist Matt Daniels ranked as having the largest vocabulary in hip-hop history, but the East Coast rapper delivers incisive, socially conscious rhymes in a smooth flow worthy of one of his major influences, groundbreaking emcee Rakim.
Here's to fairness and accuracy in band names. This L.A.-based grindcore supergroup's music features ear-wrenching riffs courtesy of guitarists Cody Votolato (The Blood Brothers) and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Some throat-shredding yelps from ex-Blood Brothers vocalist Jordan Billie and pulverizing rhythms from bassist Justin Pearson and drummer Gabe Serbian (both of San Diego hardcore group The Locust) add even more cranium-crunching power.
Chuck Ragan (The Olympic, March 27, midnight)
Folk and country have always held an appeal for a certain segment of punk rockers: In the 1980s, John Doe, Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake from L.A. band X formed a country side-project called The Knitters with roots-rock musician Dave Alvin. Raspy-voiced singer-songwriter Chuck Ragan falls squarely within this tradition. He first gained recognition in the 1990s as a member of the post-hardcore group Hot Water Music, which Wondering Sound contributor Jason Schreurs called "one of the few underground bands to consistently inject hope into the punk scene." Switching from punk to Americana, Ragan's more recent songs continue to focus on themes of endurance and compassion. They should brace up anyone whose spirits are flagging from five full days of Treefort.
Few vocalists in Boise can match Gia Trotter for poise and versatility. She has lent her sweet, strong voice to a variety of groups over the years, including Mostly Muff, Spondee, The Very Most and her own old-school country project, Larkspur. Trotter's latest project embellishes that voice with plaintive tunes, reverb-heavy guitar jangle and drummer Robert Reeves's steady beats. Like most groups featuring her vocals, it sounds great.
Other Feather (The District, March 25, 7 p.m.)
Jan Reed and Jean Cardeno played an excellent set at The District during Treefort 2015. Those who missed the indie-folk duo now known as Other Feather should consider listening to its winsome tunes, enigmatic lyrics and clean harmonies this time around. Look out as well for Other Feather's debut album, which will hopefully come out later this year.
Cerberus Rex (The Shredder, March 25, 8:15 p.m.)
Good news: One of Boise's hardest-rocking bands recently put out its debut album (the rough mixes have been available for streaming on its Bandcamp page for more than a year). Bad news: As of presstime, Cerberus Rex's self-titled album was cassette-only. Then again, the best way to experience this stoner rock trio's bellowed vocals and gargantuan riffs is to hear it live.
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Donnelly native Jeff Crosby and his Refugees have made a name for themselves far beyond the frontman's Gem State roots.
Jeff Crosby and the Refugees (Main Stage, March 26, 1 p.m.)
Donnelly-born singer-songwriter Jeff Crosby has received some well-deserved attention over the past few years. In addition to touring with Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons, Crosby had songs featured on the soundtrack for TV show Sons of Anarchy. On his latest album, Waking Days (self-released, 2015), his warm, smoky croon serves as the perfect vehicle for impeccably crafted country-rock tunes. "The album's canyon echoes reverberate in a pleasantly familiar way," No Depression observed, "but the songs are fresh and personal."
If you catch Crosby's band, consider buying some merch: Crosby was recently hospitalized, and his medical bills are around $39,000.
Tisper (El Korah Shrine, March 26, 5 p.m.)
Musician Samwise Carlson has performed around Boise for a few years now, but it almost doesn't feel right to include his self-described "fantasy-folk project" in a local artists section. Between Carlson's eerily high tenor and the delicate weave of guitar, cello and keyboard, Tisper doesn't sound of this earth. Instead, it sounds like something you might hear if you were wandering with Dante and Beatrice through Paradise.
Glenmerle (Mardi Gras, March 26, 5:30 p.m.)
Playing as A Sea of Glass, this band's mix of ringing guitars, angelic vocals and hard-driving rhythms made it one of the most exciting local acts in recent years. This Treefort set will mark the group's first performance under its new moniker, Glenmerle. Whatever the band chooses to call itself, the teaser on its Treefort profile suggests this performance will be more of the gorgeous same.
Amuma Says No (The Basque Center, March 26, 9 p.m.)
Amuma Says No's joyous blending of rock with Basque dance music make it one of the most distinctive groups in Idaho. The band has received national attention, playing the Kennedy Center for the Arts and the Library of Congress. If you missed this group at last year's Jaialdi festival, take the chance to see it at Treefort.
Finn Riggins (Linen Building, March 26, 10:30 p.m.)
One could argue Treefort wouldn't exist without Finn Riggins. Thanks to the indie-rock band's relentless touring schedule in its early years, keyboardist Eric Gilbert built the connections that allowed him to organize the first festival in 2012, with Lori Shandro and Drew Lorona.
This group isn't worth seeing just for its cultural significance, though—Finn Riggins' anthemic tunes, propulsive rhythms and soaring vocals embody the expansive, celebratory spirit of Treefort. Also, the addition of Hillfolk Noir's Travis Ward on bass frees up Gilbert and Lisa Simpson to rock out even more on synthesizer and guitar, respectively.
Western Daughter (Linen Building, March 27, 6 p.m.)
Though barely a year old, this emo/post-punk group has already been making a name for itself. New Noise Magazine made Western Daughter's debut album, As the Sun Went Down (Broken Bark Records/Camp Daze, 2015), available for streaming in December 2015. Under the Gun Review editor Kyle Florence wrote that "these intuitive up-and-comers readily blur the boundaries between a wealth of different genres." The band's balance of sophisticated musicianship and raucous power make it one of the most promising young groups in the current Boise scene.
Get the full Treefort Music Fest schedule at treefortmusicfest.com, or download the app for iOS or Android.